By Janvier Nsengiyum
When I need a solution for something, or a conscience, the Bob Dylan song “Blowin” in the wind” pops into my head. When I hear the lyrics “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” and “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see”? I feel liberated. Every line is powerful; while there is a feeling of sadness, there is also a yearning for possibility and having a conscience.
This brings me to the problem of diversity. Let’s face it, Saint Michael’s College suffers from lack of diversity and it affects the campus environment and everyone in the community. With the current political climate and social issues surrounding racism, students are more likely to fall victim to indoctrination. In such a situation, racism is normalized and begins to feel permissible. The lack of awareness around inclusion perpetuates this environment. Let me tell you why diversity matters.
I am a black student, I live in Aubin Common. Every day, I like to take the elevator from fourth floor to the first and I walk through the glass hallway that connects Aubin and Dion. But when I open the door that allows me into Dion family center, when I look at the students situated in the studying room and those on the right in the Make space my mind goes, “Everyone is white. ”And I think they are probably staring at me as I walk by to Einstein’s. I find it hard to be in the moment because I feel self-conscious, like there is a light being pointed at me.
It’s very obvious. When I walk into Alliot, look at the dining tables occupied with mostly white students I also think, “It’s always the same every year.”
Sometimes there’s a double consciousness which can make your life difficult. I am a black man in the eyes of white people, therefore I become a symbol of limits; meaning that my presence becomes a negation for how one defines oneself as an American. This double consciousness coined by W.E.B Dubois is very important in understanding the experience of black people. Imagine a group of black men walking through Dion or in Alliot. For those who have never seen them they might view them as the outsider. As Dubois once said “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
He captured my everyday experiences walking in this environment. As a black student when you start making eye contact, you notice everyone staring at you. Thus, you begin to see yourself through a double lens–through your history as a black man, including stereotypes, and as an American, including being a student.
Think about what Toni Morrison once said: “Take away the gaze of the white male. Once you take that out, the whole world opens up.” How do you turn off the gaze? I would want to keep the gaze insofar we are gazing at the same world; whether I am invisible in your eye, the object of disgust, or the thing that negates your existence, I exist in the same world.
It’s true that everyone wants to feel comfortable and safe. In fact, most of us are insecure. But we have to understand why we’re insecure. If you never try to talk to a black person or anyone different from you, how are you going to grow? We need to step out of our worlds and gaze in one world. The answer is blowin in the wind, all you have to do is listen and understand and don’t turn your head and pretend you know.